The Huntington High School drama club’s hit production of Once Upon a Mattress last weekend was enhanced by a remarkable pit orchestra that awed crowds with its talent and professionalism.
Directed by veteran music teacher Brian Stellato, the pit orchestra included more than 30 skilled musicians. Music teacher Victoria Garbarino played piano and assisted Mr. Stellato. The group received the music books for the show in late January. Rehearsals began on February 1. There were five two-hour rehearsals stretching through February and into early March as the musicians worked through Act 1 and Act 2.
“Then in mid-March, we had two Sitzprobe rehearsals,” Mr. Stellato said. “These are rehearsals where the cast comes to the pit rehearsals and works through song after song for the first time together. These rehearsals are so much fun and also a tremendous amount of work in a very short period of time. They are the two rehearsals that start to really show what the production is all about and what shape everything is in.”
The Sitzprobe rehearsals were followed by two rehearsals the weekend before technical week (the week before opening night) and then every night of tech week leading up to last Friday night’s show.
“The student musicians in our pit orchestra worked so hard and it truly paid off,” Mr. Stellato said. “They play from professional level books and the students did an outstanding job. Many high school pit orchestra ensembles hire professional musicians, known as ringers to help make the performance what it needs to be. The Huntington High School pit orchestra was made up of all students except for our very own Ms. Garbarino on piano.”
Seniors Billy Garfinkel and Camryn Libes were the pit orchestra’s student leaders and the two teenagers did a magnificent job. “Pit orchestra has been a major part of my years at the high school,” Ms. Libes said. “I honestly couldn’t picture my time here without it. I always loved being a part of the musicals, but I realized that being on stage wasn’t exactly my forte. I knew that I wanted to be in pit when Ms. Leonardi (now retired orchestra director Lisa Leonardi) started talking about it during freshman year. I asked her if I could join and thankfully she said yes. It is unusual for a freshman to join pit since it is for the best musicians. It is definitely harder for a band musician to join the pit orchestra, but I was still ecstatic about being a part of the musical.”
The orchestra included the following musicians: Violin: Chris Chang, Billy Garfinkel, Camryn Libes, Sophia Martinez, Annabella Matheus, Marina Ruzic, Christina Varady; Cello: Nicole Arenth, Maggie Giles, Diya Rai-Gersappe, Katie Stock; Bass: Nick Kretchchmer, Maddy Kye; Piccolo/flute: Jacob LaBarge; Flute: Anjali Kapur, Katharine Kitzen; Oboe: Julia Engle; Clarinet: Meagan-Elise Malone, Matthew Hearl, Rachel Roday; Bass clarinet: Jamie Rosenbauer; Horn: Adina Kirkland, Katie Riley; Trumpet: Connor Grosso, Aidan McCooey, Josh Yanuck; Trombone: Matt Quinn; Guitar: Teddy Holly; Keyboard: Katy Dara; Piano: Victoria Garbarino; Percussion: Christiana DeLuca; Drum set: Natalie Furman.
“Billy Garfinkel and I have been in the orchestra for all four years, which allowed us to become the ‘pit parents,’” Ms. Libes said. “However, this year was different for us since Ms. [Jessica] Castaneda was the music director during our first three years. She was an amazing conductor and definitely a true mother to all of us. This year Mr. Stellato was the director and it was an amazing experience since Billy and I worked closely with him. Pit orchestra allows musicians who love their instrument to play fun, yet difficult music and also be part of the musical. We are still there for tech week and yes, the back aches are real, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am deeply saddened that it is all over, but I will never forget the experience.”
Mr. Garfinkel will always remember the time he spent in the pit during the drama club’s spring musicals. The musicians grow close to one another and form a unique bond with the orchestra’s director. It’s a special experience for everyone involved.
“Pit orchestra is a unique combination of some of the most talented musicians in the high school who all dedicate an enormous amount of time and energy to making the best music possible for all of our musicals,” Mr. Garfinkel said. “Unlike other ensembles, pit forces you to play while relying on cues and lines from cast to conductor and conductor to orchestra, which make it feel like a genuine team effort. I like to consider myself a veteran pit member, having been involved for the last four years and I can attest that I’ve seen time and time again the outstanding progress our pit orchestra makes over the course of preparing these shows. I encourage any interested musicians to try to get involved, because it’s really a different and rewarding extracurricular that is offered.”
Drama club advisor Michael Schwendemann address the crowd following the show’s final performance last Saturday night, singling out Mr. Stellato and Ms. Garbarino and the student musicians